Reimagining a classic movie's soundtrack can be an intimidating endeavor. In an NPR interview, Primus frontman and bass-god Les Claypool says, "You're gonna please some folks and you're gonna piss off some folks. But I hope I don't piss off Gene Wilder..." The concept of Primus making a Willy Wonka and the Chocalate Factory cover album seems as outlandish as the band itself, however, a magical chocolate factory full of little orange men who sing is pretty far out there as well.
The flagship song of this album is "Pure Imagination." The track opens up with a guitar line similar to the bells from the original, but with a marimba part added in that puts a twisted edge to it. The marimba is played by Mike Dillion, who makes up The Fungi Ensemble with Sam Bass on cello. The verses sang by Les Claypool keep the familiarity of the song, but the psychedelic jams in between make it engaging.
Other tracks that hit the dot are the Ooompa Loompa songs. Just like in the movie, they are a recurring motif, with "Oompa Augustus," "Oompa Violet," "Oompa Veruca," and "Oompa TV" appearing throughout the album. With the beating of the drums, Claypool's bass, and the original melodies, the band makes a loyal covers that are not merely cheap imitations. Songs like "Pure Imagination" and the Oompa Loompa songs embody what one would expect in a Primus cover album of Willy Wonka. The band evokes nostalgia and then jolts it with their signature eccentricity. Nonetheless, there are some parts of the album which are not quite on target.
When one anticipates hearing a cover, there is room for innovation but there is also an expected direction set by the original. Much like a Wonkavator, Primus takes some of their covers into unseen directions. One example of this can be heard right at the start of the album. After the introductory "Hello Wonkites" comes "Candy Man." Stylistically, the song fits well into the canon of Primus' oddball sound. Nonetheless, it comes up short because it strays too far from the source material. The biggest diverging factor of this cover is the change of melody. Instead of sounding like a rendition of the song, it feels more like a Primus original with Wonka lyrics forced in. "Golden Ticket," which comes up a few songs later, falls short for the very same reasons.
Unlike chocolate, Primus is more of an acquired taste. Primus & The Chocolate Factory with The Fungi Ensemble is more geared towards hardcore fans or those fond of Les Claypool's solo projects. It's no Sailing the Seas of Cheese, but hearing the eclectic band take on well-known songs provides some kicks. There may be a few tracks on the album that fall short of expectations, but this is just a matter of context. In all, Claypool shouldn't worry about pissing folks off with his interpretation of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. No one can outdo Tim Burton's 2005 abomination.
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